Nelson McCausland: SF go potty over planters in Ulster Scots but houl their wheesht if you mention the £25m for Gaelic
Republicans talk a lot about 'equality', but it's just a tactic in pursuit of a sectarian agenda, says Nelson McCausland
The Planter and the Gael was the title of an anthology of poems and it has passed into wider usage as a description of two communities in Ulster. I've never been really happy about the phrase, but the words took on a new significance recently in the town of Antrim with a controversy that can really be described as "the planter and the Gael".
There is an area in the centre of Antrim which is known as Scotch Quarter and within it there are a number of historic buildings.
Back in March last year, as a way of recognising Scotch Quarter and marketing the area for visitors, Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council decided to install some new decorative flower planters.
The planters were duly installed and on them are printed the name of the area, Scotch Quarter, with four Ulster-Scots words of greeting: "Fair fa' ye tae".
You might imagine that the installation of the new heritage planters would be noted and welcomed, but that's not how things are with some people. Enter the Gaels.
Sinn Fein councillor Anne Marie Logue was soon up in arms about it and said that this was a slap in the face for Irish speakers and "a breach of equality legislation".
She argued that, because street signs in the borough are in English only, there was anti-Irish discrimination. After that, Cait Ni Ruanaidh, from Ionad Teaghlaigh Ghleann Darach, an Irish language centre in Crumlin, said: "This is downright sectarianism, it demonises our Irish language community. We will be lodging a complaint with the Equality Commission. We believe the council is in breach of equality regulations."
So, here again, it was all about "equality".
Now, most people probably knew very little about Ionad Teaghlaigh Ghleann Darach, but this drew attention to the centre and some folk began to wonder how they had got their lovely new purpose-built centre.
The answer is that it was the beneficiary of funding from a little-known fund for Irish language centres, which was demanded by Sinn Fein and was set up in 2010 by Sinn Fein with £8m from the Labour Government of Gordon Brown.
The £8m fund An Ciste Infheistiochta Gaeilge was handed over by the Treasury to a new organisation that was chaired by a veteran Sinn Fein politician and whose director is a former Sinn Fein councillor.
It was then able to lever in money from other Government sources and so there was a total pot of around £25m - all public money - for Irish language centres.
Now, that brings me back to the word "equality". There was no equal, or equivalent, capital investment fund for buildings for other cultural traditions, but, of course, Sinn Fein managed to avoid the equality issue and the scrutiny of the Equality Commission by getting the money straight from London.
However, when the Department for Communities ran a modest community halls scheme, worth £1.9m, and when a number of Orange halls secured some of the money allocated through the halls fund, there was outrage from Sinn Fein and SDLP politicians.
The recipients included sports halls, youth halls, GAA halls, church halls, band halls, Orange halls and Hibernian halls, but that wasn't good enough for Alex Maskey, who spoke of "blatant discrimination".
Ten heritage planters in the Scotch Quarter, paid for by the Ulster-Scots Agency, caused an outcry from Sinn Fein, as did an open and inclusive halls scheme. But they decided to "houl their wheesht" about the millions that have been lavished on the Irish language by London, with no concern for equality.
Remember, too, that they were out on the streets, protesting about the withdrawal of a Sinn Fein-sponsored £50,000 Liofa scheme and even collapsed Stormont over it.
However, they didn't take to the streets to tell us about their £25m and that was discrimination.
It's time for a shared and better future based on equity, diversity and interdependence, but Sinn Fein see "equality" as a tactic to advance their sectarian agenda.